So Tom Ashbrook, who hosted On Point, a first-rate, in-depth, call-in show on NPR, has been dismissed by Boston University’s WBUR for having created “an abusive work environment.”
But what does that really mean?
You — I know I did — probably thought for quite a while that Ashbrook was just one more in a long line of male abusers or harassers of female staff working for him.
Yet the two consulting firms hired by BU that investigated the allegations against Ashbrook concluded he didn’t do anything to violate the university’s sexual abuse or harassment policies.
So what exactly did Ashbrook do? The Globe story linked above doesn’t provide any details. I had to go to the comments in the story, which were largely supportive of Ashbrook, to find that he had apparently crumpled up a news script in anger in one instance, and used a vulgarity in referring to a guest on the show at another point.
I completely support the sacking of men who have committed real abuse, whether it is Harvey Weinstein or Roger Ailes or Mark Halperin or, I would hope someday soon, Donald Trump.
But it seems we have entered a realm of blurred ethical values when people like Tom Ashbrook, Al Franken and Garrison Keillor get lumped in with those real abusers.
Like all revolutionary movements, the “me too movement” appears to have shown itself capable of being hijacked by ideologues who fail to make distinctions between truly reprehensible conduct or unjust conditions, and conduct or conditions that have simply made their lives inconvenient.
I’m not saying Ashbrook was an easy boss to work for. He probably was a very difficult boss. But he also put out an excellent product.
It seems it has been all too easy for people in positions of power at BU and WBUR to subvert “me too” by turning it into “get him too.”
In that vein, I don’t really blame the ideologues. I blame the administration at BU and management at WBUR that appear to have failed to exercise common sense in this matter. Their first mistake may have been in hiring consulting firms to essentially make their ethical decisions for them.
I’m all for using consulting firms for providing technical advice. But when it comes to deciding who is a good employee and whether they should be promoted or demoted, administrators and managers should make those decisions themselves and not hire consultants to do their thinking and soul-searching for them.